Three Uncomfortable Moments During an Otherwise Enjoyable Madrid Visit

Queridos amigos,

Our AirB&B for the weekend was situated in a Madrid neighborhood or barrio called Lavapies (meaning wash feet)

It’s a diverse neighborhood, evident by sights and smells and sounds. Many skin color tones were represented. I heard Spanish and Arabic and a language I can’t place. Roasting lamb deliciousness wafed through the air. 

But when we arrived at night at the apartment door, we noticed a man dressed in clothes with holes in them, a man who kicked the apartment door to see if it was open (unsuccessfully) and then loitered around the Pakistani restaurant next door. 

Another man walks out of the restaurant and begins threatening the loiterer, even raising his fist as though he were going to strike. 

Vete de aquí hijo de…” bleep. BLEEP. Bleepity bleep. 

After the loiterer leaves, the man looks at Blake and me, explaining from a distance how he is the shop owner, how the homeless man threatens his business, how he’s trying to maintain a respectable establishment so he can feed his family. Blake nods as I translate, “Si, si.” 

We were grateful when our AirB&B host arrived to let us into the apartment. 

Upon asking other Madrid Fulbrighters, here is what I understand so far about Lavapies. It’s a diverse barrio that’s up and coming in some ways, but also not a place that a woman would feel safe walking around at night unaccompanied. 

If a Madrileño is searching for exotic foods or spices, Lavapies is the place to go. Also, every year Lavapies has a bar hop called Tapapies, when one can get cañas and tapas at a cheaper price, thus facilitating bar hop exploration in Lavapies. Some even call the area hipster. 

However, some Madrileños view the neighborhood as a poorer area that one would be uncomfortable to walk through alone in late hours. 

This trip we learned much more about Madrid barrios and the amazing cuisine, art, and architecture Madrid has to offer. 

Our friend Abbey showed us around a barrio called La Latina, where there are tasty places to eat like La Bobia

Near the plaza mayor, we tried Cien Montalitos with Tiffany and Bogden. They showed us around famous buildings and statues. 

Hands down, our favorite museo so far is the Thyssen, where we viewed a Renoir exhibit (online Renoir copies don’t do the originals justice). Warning: the museo Prado is overwhelming. The street art and performers were incredible as well. Matt and John joined us for the museum part of the adventure. 

The metro is another way to learn the Madrid neighborhoods. I love the metro system. It’s easy to use and the metro is both dependable and clean. You learn the names of stops quickly since you have to know the past stop of a line to determine the correct direction for your destination. Some names are self explanatory (like La Opera and Hospital) while others I have yet to figure out why they’re so named (like Lavapies…???). Abbey recommend the Moovit app. 

Our second uncomfortable moment was at a bar near barrio Serrano, a rich neighborhood. The bar owner seemed very nice and accommodating. He kept serving our group free tapas with our beers (we weren’t sure the food was free at that point though which caused some worry). 

A few hours later, after Blake paid and we tried to depart, the owner invites us to another beer round (which we weren’t sure if it was or wasn’t on the house). We told him we have to leave and uuuff the look on his face. 

Note: when someone invites you (“te invito“) to food or drink, it’s hospitality that’s on the house that you cannot turn down without seeming rude. My recommendation and what I’d do if I could go back? Say thanks, take a few sips of the free beer, then go. Instead we left the group to deal with an upset bar owner and one too many beers for them to drink. Sorry guys. Again. We are sorry. 

And then our third uncomfortable situation: missing our train. In truth, this was our own fault. We were having such a wonderful time chatting with Sara and Leah at an awesome place called Cafe de los espejos that we didn’t leave with enough time to get to our train. Er well, we arrived at the platform only to be told it was too late and only to watch the train pull out of the station without us. Last train to Lugo, gone. 

Good news? Two hours and a Burger King meal later, we were on a Blablacar to Lugo. We arrived home in five hours as opposed to the train’s seven or even nine hour trips (speeding is called running in Spanish correr) We even got to meet a Spaniard and see the landscape. 

Bad news? I got car sick and Burger King had its revenge. Embarrassing. 

In all Blake and I loved exploring Madrid and meeting up with Fulbrighters. We had a wonderful time. In fact, we were sad we couldn’t meet up with more people. 

As for these uncomfortable moments…they make for good stories and it helps me see the moments as teachable/learning moments. Retelling them also helps me take myself less seriously and laugh at myself a little. 

That’s all for now. Time to curl up next to the radiator and lesson plan. 

Hasta pronto,